Study Guide

Transcendentalism Texts

Transcendentalism Resources

Primary Resources

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836)
In a word, Emerson teaches us to love nature. Why? Cuz it's pretty. Why else? Cuz there's a universal spirit floating around in the world and you're way more likely to commune with it if you're surrounded by trees and flowers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar" (1836)
What does it mean to be an American scholar? Emerson's got all the answers, as usual. And the stuff an American scholar ought to be into? You can bet your heavy-duty hiking boots one of them is nature. Being an individual—in your thought as well as your actions—is another one. Those and learning stuff via Shmoop. That was Emerson's fave.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Divinity School Address" (1838)
In this address, Emerson tells us to trust our intuition. Always. And that's about as divine as it gets, in school or out.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance," (1841)
In case all the stuff about communing with spirits in nature, being a scholar by thinking independently and individualistically, and trusting intuition didn't get the point across, Emerson wrote an essay called "Self-Reliance." It's about being self-reliant. And that's the way to go, according to Emerson.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Over-Soul" (1841)
Just so you don't get confused about all this individualism and self-guided stuff, Emerson wanted to remind his readers what underlies all those ideas. That's right, it's God. Which is part of the universal spirit thing you see all over nature. So it's our soul and the universe's soul and God's soul and nature's soul. Put that all together and whaddaya get? The Over-Soul.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series (1841)
You can probably take a stab and guess some of the gems that made it into this guy. That's right, all the ones about nature, being a scholar, intuition, relying on yourself, and the one about the soul. And there was plenty more where that came from in this coveted first collection. Way to go, Emerson!

Margaret Fuller, "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women" (1843)
Women's rights. Critique of American society. Calls for social reform. Law metaphors. Fuller's got it all in this essay.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Second Series (1844)
He's back! Basically, Emerson's first collection of essays is so successful, he publishes another one. This one had stuff about philosophy, literary ideas, society, and life in New England in 1844. Another hot biscuit off the presses.

Christopher Pearse Cranch, Poems (1844)
Nature. God. Correspondence. It all seems so natural, it's practically divine. And each thing corresponds with the others, too. And it rhymes.

Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)
Remember the lawsuit thing? This takes it a step further. Fuller argues that women in the nineteenth century aren't much better off than slaves. Hear that, society? We need to liberate both!

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poems (1847)
The Top Dog of Transcendentalism not only writes essays, he writes poetry. Does this guy ever put down his pen and paper?

Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience" (1849)
Everybody loves this one, from middle-school English teachers to the students they're teaching about how to misbehave. Thanks to Thoreau, we now know that we don't always have to obey our government. Of course, that's when the government is behaving badly, too. So civil disobedience ain't necessarily the best excuse for not writing your Transcendentalism essay that's due Monday morning.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)
Thoreau got sick of being civilly disobedient, so he decided to go off and be obedient to, like, the opposite of civilization. Then he wrote a book about it telling us all about his blissful years living alone in the woods by Walden Pond. If we all did that, wouldn't there be a bit less fighting? Until the world ran out of ponds, anyway.

Henry David Thoreau, "Slavery in Massachusetts" (1854)
Even the best of us have to retire from pond life every once in awhile to write a real scathing critique of society's nastiest problems. Thoreau blasts all of those slavery-defending hypocrites in this address. Civil War, here we come…

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855, first edition)
"I celebrate myself, and sing myself." "Do anything, but let it produce joy." "Give me the splendid, silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling." Whitman produced some joy with his full-dazzling poetry in Leaves of Grass (which was inspired, in part, by our buddy Ralph Waldo Emerson). Then he spent the rest of his life revising, and re-issuing, this collection of poetry,

Secondary Resources

Philip F. Gura, American Transcendentalism: A History (2008)
This book is called "A History." So you best believe it's there to set you up with a full historical context of the movement, from the first inspiring blade of grass to the sunset of The Dial.

Tiffany K. Wayne, ed. Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism (2006)
History lesson not your style? Pick your fave Transcendentalist terminology and look up anything and everything having to do with the movement in this Encyclopedia. Correspondence? Nature? Over-Soul? Yup, it's all there.

Tiffany K. Wayne, Woman Thinking: Feminism and Transcendentalism in Nineteenth-Century America (2005)
Margaret Fuller showed us the way Transcendentalism was a breeding ground for reform-minded ideas. And that includes Feminism. This book traces the links between Feminism and Transcendentalism, Fuller and beyond.

Barbara L. Packer, The Transcendentalists (2007)
Packer unpacks the origins and development of Transcendentalism. A handy way to get closer to your favorite superstars of the movement.

Arthur Versluis, American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions (1993).
Yup. The Transcendentalists were inspired, in part, by Asian religions. Who knew?